Lesson 1 – The challenge that faces us
Most members of the Lord’s church sense that something is happening in the church. They may not be exactly certain what it is, but they know there is anxiety, unrest, and dissension. The purpose of the study which we are beginning this morning is designed to help Christians understand what is happening in the church. What are the issues? How serious are they? Should we be concerned? Our goal is to search the scriptures to determine what the Word of God says versus the words and traditions of men.
It is clear that, if the church is to be faithful in carrying out of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:45-49) then it must seriously and strenuously address itself to the matter of the defense of the faith against various forms of false doctrine.
We are members of the church of Christ because we obeyed the Gospel of Christ and the Lord added us to the church (Acts 2:38-41, 47). Anyone anywhere anytime can (and will) become a member of the church bought, built, and owned by Christ when he/she confesses faith in the Sonship of Christ, repents of sins, and is baptized into Christ in order to receive the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ. When such ones in any locality then worship and work and are content to be organized into a congregation as specified in the New Testament, they constitute a church of Christ.
In order to understand what is happening in the church, we need to look at some historical background.
1. Some Background Information
1.1. A Distinctive People
1.1.1. Churches of Christ have been clearly distinct from the world and from denominationalism. In days past, members of the church knew that they stood alone in the religious world, primarily because of the insistence upon baptism for remission of sins (Acts 2:38), emphasis upon the identity of the church (Matthew 16:18), and the persistence that God gives us a pattern for worship within the New Testament.
1.1.2. Opposition strengthened the church especially when the opposition was open and direct. There were public debates dealing with “thus saith the Lord” and “book, chapter, and verse.” The church came out in the forefront of these discussions, so much so that denominations ultimately ceased to participate in them or to offer any public defense of their doctrine in such a format.
1.1.3. Unfortunately, just as the opposition had strengthened churches of Christ and caused members to know what they believe and why, so the lack of opposition caused some to grow soft and indifferent. Without the opposition and frontal attacks, their interest in doctrinal preaching waned and so did their knowledge and understanding of the truth. As a result, doctrinal resolve weakened and many were left vulnerable to the influence of false teaching and error.
1.2. Worldly Influence
1.2.1. Long ago the apostle John warned: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (I John 2:15-17).
1.2.2. Most of us would admit that the world is more affluent than it was when we were children. Not many wives or mothers worked outside of the home, families were able to survive on one income. Today, people make more money, both spouses work outside of the home, we have multiple cars, we buy and go and do like never before. These factors are cited to merely to show that the world has changed and that our outlook is different to that which existed only a few years ago. Do not lose sight of the fact that the impact of such changes is likewise felt upon the church. People tend to be more materialistic and more concerned about worldly things. There is less spiritual emphasis in our society as a whole.
1.2.3. Worldly influence has a way of gradually altering the way one thinks. It is not always easy to be distinct, to be different than those around us.
1.3. A Concrete Example
1.3.1. The emphasis has always been on speaking where the Bible speaks and, remaining silent where the Bible is silent.
1.4. The Loss of the Original Pattern
1.4.1. God intends for each church to be overseen by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23) who met certain qualifications (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). It is clear that elders possessed authority to rule over the local flock (Heb. 13:7, 17) but they were prohibited from abusing their position by lording it over the flock (I Peter 5:3). The New Testament never depicts one elder as possessing more authority than the other elder/elders in the church.
1.4.2. Church history reveals that gradual changes in the form of church government paved the way to apostasy, and ultimately to the development of Roman Catholicism. Certain elders began to call themselves bishops to exalt themselves in rank and authority above the other elders with whom they served. Eventually, certain men over an extended period began to proclaim themselves to be the Universal Bishop over all bishops. This man eventually became known as the pope.
1.4.3. At the request of the pope, pretentious councils of men convened to discuss the policies of the church. The men who comprised these councils had the disposition to follow their own wills rather than the will of God. Therefore, it is not surprising that the decrees of these men precipitated even more departures from the Word of God.
126.96.36.199. The use of “Holy Water” was introduced about A.D. 120. Alexander, a “bishop’ of the “church”, taught that water for baptism must be blessed and consecrated for religious purposes.
188.8.131.52. The observance of Lent can be traced back to Telsephorus, a “bishop” at Rome, who, about 140, set aside 40 days as a period of fasting on the basis of an alleged apostolic tradition.
184.108.40.206. The origin of priestly robes was borrowed from Judaism and brought into the “church” in 257 by Stephen, a “bishop” of Rome
220.127.116.11. Around 305 compulsory celibacy began to take root despite the clear Bible teaching of I Timothy 4:1-4, I Corinthians 9:5-6, and Matthew 8:14.
18.104.22.168. Origen is credited with advancing the doctrine of Purgatory as early as 220. The doctrine suggests that certain souls (who have not committed mortal sins) will be punished only temporarily in Hell until the penalty for their sins has been satisfied. Praying for the dead came into practice about 380. Praying to the dead began about a century later. (Luke 13:3, 5; John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:12-15; Luke 16:19-26)
22.214.171.124. Private confession of sins to a priest began in 390. It became the universal practice of the Catholic Church in 1215 when the pope made it a fixed part of their doctrine.
126.96.36.199. Organ use was approved in 666.
1.5.1. New Hermeneutics – a form of the word “hermeneutics” was used by the people of Lystra when they called Paul “Hermes” because he was the principle speaker (Acts 14:12). So anyone who explains a matter is a Hermes. In relation to the Bible, what is called the “new hermeneutics” (NH) has become popular. The old way of explaining the Bible, they say, is not palatable to this generation.” However it turns out that the NH discounts the Bible and explains away its teachings. Paul knew that all Scripture is God-breathed (II Tim. 3:16), and Peter knew that it is Spirit-inspired (II Pet. 1:21), but a NH advocate holds that Matthew wrote, “from memory, maybe from some notes he jotted down hearing Jesus preach.”
1.5.2. Change Agents – calls into question the authority of God. A term originating among various writers in “Image” and “Wineskins” issues, has to do with those who hold generally, in whole or in large part, the following views:
188.8.131.52. Churches of Christ are sectarian and denominational in their nature and status
184.108.40.206. Brethren generally have misunderstood or failed to understand the true and full teaching of the Bible on grace
220.127.116.11. Grace means there is to be a revision of the understanding brethren have maintained of the relation of faith and works in the plan of salvation.
18.104.22.168. Baptism for the remission of sins is not mandatory to be understood and present in one’s becoming a Christian
22.214.171.124. Salvation is by the grace of God alone but also by faith, which is not required to “do” anything to demonstrate it is genuine.
126.96.36.199. Nothing one can do contributes or can contribute one bit to his or her salvation.
188.8.131.52. Worship services must be revised and renewed to be more appealing to the present generation of younger adults
184.108.40.206. Instrumental music is not a legitimate barrier to keep us from some form of fellowship and worship services with various denominations
220.127.116.11. The Bible must not be regarded as setting forth “pattern” instruction, which must be followed exactly.
18.104.22.168. Women are to have certain new and obvious roles in the public worship of the church
1.5.3. Apostasy – departure from God’s instruction
2. Biblical Warnings and Examples from the Old and New Testaments
2.1.1. Matthew 7:15
2.1.2. Matthew 15:6-9
2.1.3. II Peter 2:1-2
2.1.4. Romans 16:17-18
2.1.5. Acts 20:29-30
2.1.6. Galatians 1:7
2.1.7. I Timothy 1:19
2.1.8. I Timothy 4:1
2.2. Old Testament Examples
2.2.1. I Chronicles 13 – Uzza struck dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant. God’s original instructions stated the ark should be carried by using the staves that were in the rings by the sides of the ark (Numbers 4:4-15; Exodus 25:12-15).
2.2.2. Jeremiah 50 – The fall of Babylon
2.2.3. Exodus 32 – Israel willfully breaks the covenant
2.2.4. Numbers 16 – The book of Numbers recounts the events during the 40 years spent by the Israelites in the wilderness while preparing eventually to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. In chapter 16, 250 men confronted Moses about being self appointed
2.3. New Testament Examples
2.3.1. I Corinthians 1:10-15 – Paul tells them to quit ignoring the truth
2.3.2. II Corinthians 6:14-17 – Another falling away by the church at Corinth.
2.3.3. I Timothy – Dangers of false doctrine
2.3.4. II Timothy 3 – Approaching day of apostasy
3. Facing the future
3.1. Know the problems. Recognize error when we hear it. Stay informed about what is transpiring. Be able to discern difficulties when they first arise because some will not recognize what is happening.
3.2. Study the word. There is no substitute for Bible knowledge.
3.3. Determine to stand for right. We might be opposed by family and friends, but cling to I Kings 22:14
3.4. Love the truth. (II Thess. 2:10-11; John 8:32)
There are serious challenges confronting the church. We face troublesome times. If all mankind would determine to go back to the Bible and the Bible alone for their rule of faith and practice, then the current apostasy going on would come to a screeching halt.